U.S. Women Earn 2007 World Cup Berth

Thursday, November 23rd 2006, 6:43 am
By: News On 6

CARSON, Calif. (AP) _ Abby Wambach and her U.S. teammates could breathe a giant sigh of relief _ the Americans are in the 2007 World Cup. Wambach scored twice and the United States beat Mexico 2-0 in a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal Wednesday night to earn a berth in next September's World Cup in China.

The semifinal amounted to a one-game qualifier, since the champion and runner-up in the regional tournament are assured a World Cup spot.

``I can't say enough about the stress that's involved in qualifying, especially when you're expected to,'' Wambach said. ``We've dedicated so much time, devoted so much effort.''

Coach Greg Ryan also was obviously relieved.

``There's tremendous pressure; one game and you're in, or you have to go to Japan and play,'' Ryan said, alluding to the third-place team in the Gold Cup having to play a two-game qualifier against Japan for the final World Cup berth.

Mexico coach Leo Cueller noted that the United States is developing ``a new generation of players,'' and that it may be tough because the rest of the world always is gunning for the U.S. team.

``They have a big challenge in front of them, being the premiere program in the world,'' Cueller said.

Canada beat Jamaica 4-0 in the opening semifinal, with former University of Portland star Christine Sinclair leading the way with two goals and an assist to assure the Canadians a World Cup spot.

The 26-year-old Wambach, notching her 66th goal in 83 appearances for the national team, gave the United States a two-goal pad when she scored on a spectacular glancing header in the 64th minute.

Kristine Lilly took the ball away from Elizabeth Patricia Gomez, dribbled down near the goal line on the left side and curled a left-footed pass toward the box. Wambach, just outside the near post, flicked her head to redirect the ball, and it looped over goalkeeper Sophia Perez and into the net.

Lilly also started the scoring sequence on the first goal with a pass from the top of the box to Carli Lloyd on the right side. Lloyd drove a shot that Perez dove to catch, but the ball slipped through her grasp. As she tried to reach and retrieve it, Wambach kicked it in.

Along with locking up a spot in next September's World Cup in China, the U.S. women set a national record for the longest unbeaten streak.

The 26-0-5 string is the longest in the 21-year history of the women's national team. The streak began with a 5-0 victory over Mexico on Dec. 8, 2004, the final game for U.S. stalwarts Mia Ham and Julie Foudy.

The other 30-game unbeaten streak was from Feb. 10, 1996, to Oct. 9, 1997.

The Gold Cup victory over Mexico continued the United States' domination of their neighbors from the south. The U.S. women are 18-0 against Mexico and have allowed a total of only six goals in those games. But the Mexican team obviously has made progress since being routed 12-0 by the United States in CONCACAF qualifying in 1991.

Asked if he thought Mexico made a statement with the close game against the United States in the Gold Cup, Cueller said, ``We probably sent a message that in the next four years, things could be different.''

The United States and Canada each received byes into the Gold Cup semifinals. They will meet for the Gold Cup title Sunday in Carson. Mexico and Jamaica play in the third-place game, and the winner of that match will go against Japan.

This year's Gold Cup is the third, and the U.S. women are trying to win the tournament for the third time.

The Americans are two-time World Cup champions, beating Norway 2-1 in China in 1991, then defeating China on penalty kicks after a scoreless tie in the 1999 final before a national TV audience and a sellout crowd at the Rose Bowl.

The U.S. women finished third in 2003, when eventual champion Germany beat them 3-0 in the semifinals. The United States defeated Canada 3-1 in that third-place game.